All About Brushes
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BRUSH HAIRS & BRISTLES
The best quality bristles come from a strip running across the backs of wild hogs in Chongqing Province, China. Bristle hairs are stiff and coarse with natural curve and a V-shaped split end called a “flagged tip.” Brushes formed with the flags turning into (or interlocked with) the ferrule offer the most spring, shape retention and control. Bristle brushes are best suited for heavier paints such as oils, acrylics and encaustics.
This hair makes the finest watercolor brushes as well as excellent brushes for thinned oils and detail work. The most valuable and expensive soft brush hair comes from the tails of mustela sibirica, a marten found in the cold river valleys of Siberia. Brushmakers obtain the tails from furriers. Martens from the coldest valleys produce the best hairs for brushes. Strength, thickness, spring and fine point are the qualities associated with Kolinsky sable.
Stiffer and springier than sable but softer than hog bristle, quality ox hair comes from the ears of high-altitude South American and European oxen. Strong in body, with good spring and tapered points, ox hair is suitable for oil and water-media, whether used alone or blended with other hairs. Because of its elasticity and color carrying ability, it makes an excellent brush for heavier colors.
Russian Black Sable
Smooth yet springy, softer than hog bristle but stiffer than Kolinsky Sable, Black Sable combines the advantages of controlled, bristle-like strokes with a smooth application that won’t mark paint layers. It’s great for blending and smoothing ridges left by bristle brushes.
Sheep & Goat Hairs
These are used alone or blended for softer sumi brushes such as hake brushes. The best hairs are yellowish in color and are boiled for straightening. They are very absorbent and point well but lack spring.
This soft hair is very absorbent and points well when wet, but has little spring. Kazan, the best squirrel hair, has good elasticity—ideal for washes, lettering and smooth painted finishes.
Nylon or polyester filaments of various thicknesses mimic the action of different types of natural hair. Some are soft and springy like natural sable while others offer the stiffness and pushing ability of ox hair or hog bristle. Synthetic hair is often mixed with natural hair to add durability or spring. Many artists prefer synthetic hair brushes, which tend to be durable and easy to clean.
In White Taklon, soft, tapered synthetic fiber bristles are used in mixtures of different thicknesses. Strong and springy, they’re tough enough to handle acrylics yet soft enough for watercolor washes.
Used for sumi brushes, this coarse, stiff hair produces crisp lines and exacting calligraphy strokes.
Angled hairs or bristles are great for precise strokes, lines and curves, especially when using thick or heavy colors.
Resembling a flat with shorter hairs, it is used for short controlled strokes and impasto.
Rarely dipped directly into paint, it’s used to gently blend surface color in all media.
Capable of yielding thick to thin strokes without hard edges, it is shaped like a flat or bright with rounded corners. The Cat Tongue is a more pointed variation.
With its square end for broad, sweeping strokes, a flat offers great freedom and control for painterly effects and backgrounds.
Pronounced ha-kay, this Asian brush is used for backgrounds or broad washes in sumi or watercolor paintings. Wide and flat, it is usually made of sheep or goat hair.
Shaped to produce continuous lines without reloading, it offers great control for architectural renderings and lettering.
Full-bodied to hold a lot of fluid, it forms a controllable tip when wet and can cover large areas of color efficiently.
Its elongated shape is designed for painting minute details.
This versatile shape is capable of yielding thick to thin strokes and great detail. Sable rounds point more than bristle rounds when wet.
Its elongated shape offers optimal control for lettering or geometric line work.
Short, precisely pointed bristles provide control for close, detailed work.
Long bristles hold enough paint to make long continuous lines.